Question about harp types

  • Member
    fied on #187123

    Hello, I’m new here and new to the lever harp.

    I play quite a few instruments and, because I have a tendency to buy them just to try out, spending, over the years, lots of money, I bought one of those generally dire Pakistani 34 string harps just to see if it was an instrument I would stick with. It’s not actually too bad as far as quality of sound goes, holds tuning well, hasn’t developed any splits, but has one or two ghastly sounding lever notes. However, I’ve learned to tune those up in practice. I will also be playing classical pieces and folk pieces – eventually!

    My question is really about the tone of the harp to which I’ll upgrade after a year or so. There seems to be a choice between round back, stave back and square back. I quite like the fullness of the round back Welsh Eos, but feel it might be too resonant for the folk repertoire. OTOH, I don’t want a tinkly harp with a weak bass, either. I realize that every harp sounds different and, when the time comes, I’ll be trying out more than a few.

    I don’t want to go above the Eos prices for whatever I buy next and would be equally happy with a good student 34-36 string harp. Do people here have a favourite sound, or might you recommend some makes with comments on their back shapes/tones? I’d be very grateful if you could.

    I’m based in the UK so probably would stick with options available here, though I could be tempted to buy abroad if the sound was right.

    Biagio on #187124

    In general for well designed lever harps the issue of tone is probably better related to the kind of music you want to play and in what venues. Cogent arguments have been advanced for square or extended boxes having somewhat more volume than round backs. Conversely, a round back (shell) weighs less and can be thinner and stronger. This has an indirect effect since you will not need as much internal bracing as you might for with the square back, with resultant freer air space. So I would argue that the issue relates more to your physique and preference.

    Rather more important would be your sound board and string choices. With a wide solid wood board and fairly high tension you can play from a whisper to a bellow. For equivalent volume at lower tension the board must be thinner and probably also wider. As to my personal preference in a lever harp……

    I like potentially great volume and sustain; if money and portability were no object I’d favor the Salvi Egan or Triplett Eclipse over anything else out there. For a smaller harp I would certainly be happy with the Eos or preferably the Telor 34. And yes, my repertoire is mainly Celtic and “folk”, but these are capable of classical repertory as well.

    Resonance depends on your technique to a much larger extent than it does on the harp’s physical characteristics, again with the caveat of tension and excellent design.

    Hope that helps!


    Biagio on #187126

    Incidentally, since I like the Egan but only needed 34 strings I made my own version, the “Selchie”; it and her “sister” 26 string are pictured here:

    Note that the fairly long bass strings give this style of harp great sustain, but they can be played quite softly if I wish. Strings are Nylon, Savarez Alliance FC and a few wound in the bass for the 34. Both are round backs.

    If your budget is limited the Dusty Strings Ravenna 34 has an outstanding reputation among both students and professionals; Dustys are available in Europe and I am sure the UK.

    Allison Stevick on #187128

    Morley harps sell Dustys!
    Biagio already said anything I might say, (also, more and better than I could) but I will put this out there:
    Last year at the Edinburgh harp fest, I tried soooo many harps–my favorite brands there included Mark Norris, Silver Spear, and Pilgrim.
    (Incidentally, the EIHF is going on now. If you can make it there tomorrow or Tues, the exhibition hall is open till 6)

    Good luck with finding your ideal harp!

    fied on #187131

    Biagio, many thanks; your comments are very helpful in directing my search. I think I’m looking for some good resonance without the concert harp sound of the Eos.

    Allison, also many thanks; we’ve already been to the EIHF this year. I have to say that I’m not keen on the sound of the Ravenna, at least, those played on youtube and much preferred the student Kerry 34 when I played it.

    If price were no consideration, I’d probably go for Tim Hampden’s Ossian Clarsach.

    Still, it’ll all come down to trying out quite a few when I come to upgrade.

    Tacye on #187147

    There is a 2nd hand Tim Hampson Ossian advertised at the moment… If you like that then you might also get on with Frank Sievert’s harps, but unfortunately he hasn’t been at EIHF for the last couple of years. What did you think of Pilgrim’s Ashdown and Skylark?

    fied on #187153

    Many thanks, Tacye. I’d seen the Ossian, drooled, but resisted as I don’t intend to buy for at least a year.

    balfour-knight on #187156

    I LOVE my Ravenna 34! Go to Dusty Strings’ website and read my testimony about this great little harp!

    fied on #187168

    Maybe I’ll change my mind about the Ravenna when I come to playing one.

    And, Tayce, the Pilgrims are on my list to try out.

    Many thanks to you both for your comments.

    Biagio on #187169

    Balfour, I’ve read your testimony for the Ravenna 34 and definitely agree. If I could do it all over again I’d have just bought that to start, later an 36-38, a 26, and a wire strung and forget the building.

    As it is, I got in through the back door with a scratch-built Limerick, then a Voyageur kit that I modified (did not like the transition strings), then proceeded to design and build custom harps – first for myself, then for some others.

    But by gum if I just wanted to play the lever harp and no fascination with design – Ravenna 34, Eclipse, Lorien Raphael, and a Triplett Luna wire. That would have saved a LOT of work!


    balfour-knight on #187173

    That’s great, Biagio! Incidentally, I was just about at the point of wanting to build my own harp when I discovered this Ravenna at the Atlanta Harp Center three years ago! She was so nice in every way that I knew I could not build a better harp than her, so I purchased her on the spot. I have taken her out on more gigs already than my other two harps combined. She also amplifies well when I have a good sound person to set it up for me as I need it. For the price, I believe this is the best little harp you can get.


    Alison on #187278

    For junior pupils, there are really small Single action harps – in Germany there are 2 manufacturers (Herstellen) perhaps more and a retailer called Glissando. The Fischer harps have a really small single action harp with 5 wooden pedals, for children aged (5-10) omitting D and G actions, and a 7 pedal version, similar wooden pedals. They have a great sound, I’m told…
    Reidel – have a 7 pedal single action with brass pedals, but with 40 strings hard to say whether it’s smaller than other makes of double actions.
    If I had more room and the dosh I might get one or at least recommend one to a junior school. Haken means hook/levers, Darm is gut, einfach is simple/single.

    Tacye on #187281

    When talking about harps for other people I feel it is very important to be aware that people have different preferences. Harps I personally like and enjoy playing is not the same list as good quality harps I would be happy to recommend to others. As a case in point I admire the craftsmanship and design of the Ravenna, but don’t enjoy playing it anywhere near as much as I like its higher tension gut strung sibling, the Boulevard. Life would be boring if we all liked and played identical harps.

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